Locked In A Box Of Runners


Early morning run

(Photo courtesy of Amelia Owens)

Facebook has a place, buried deep in your profile settings, for a favorite quotation. Since I started distance running with groups such as Luke's Locker or Project 214, mine has been an Irish proverb: Giorraíonn beirt bóthar (Two people shorten a road). During the course of my week, I'm surprised at how often I've prefaced "regular life" conversations with "On a run last (Saturday/week/month), I (learned about/someone said) something interesting about…".

Though for most of us during the week, running is a solitary sport, the weekends are different. Here's a secret non-runners really don't suspect: There's a lot of talking on the road.

This situation doesn't happen in cycling, at least not to the same extent. Unless you're tight in a peleton, cyclists are spread out more due to expensive machines, sometimes dramatic speed differences and overall higher average speeds, and traffic considerations. Plus, in my experience they simply aren't as chatty.

Runners, on the other hand, are the most social bunch of folks I've ever hung out with. Non-runners think that, just because they themselves are gasping when they start trotting, we're all breathless. In reality, it's like any other aerobic activity: If you aren't running at 85% of your max heart rate or above, you can talk. And most long runs by definition are performed below that pace.

This means that for the amount of time we're out on a long run – anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours – it's as though we're all locked in a box, forced to either hang out in silence or make conversation to pass the time until the box opens. Unless someone drops out due to injury or exhaustion, we're all there for the duration because we must run back to where we started. 

As a result, you get to spend some quality time with your fellow pace group members. You learn about their lives, jobs, family, car repairs…all kinds of stuff. (Politics and religion are not quite off-limits, but the subjects are generally handled very delicately because you aren't getting out of that box for a while.) 

This can create some odd situations when you get together with your running friends and family or non-running friends: You realize you've already covered volumes of material with your running friends, and so they probably know much more about your other friends and family than these folk recognize. You also find yourself explaining your running friends to everyone else, which can be a little surprising. 

Smart running groups enforce a "no earbuds" policy, or at least only one ear. It's partly for safety, but it's also to build camaderie in the group. Listening to music while running is very popular, but it is very isolating and can also easily become a crutch that people depend on. I'm not much different; when running alone I really like to have music to distract my brain from the zillion things I'm always thinking about. But thanks to long runs with my friends, I can do without. And that's happened to me in two races, so it's good to know you can get by just listening to the footfalls around you if you must. And when you're running a destination race, such as the Colorado Half, aren't you there to experience the environment rather than isolate from it?

Finally, if you look to elite distance runners as exemplars of the sport…how many of them have you seen with earbuds? That should tell you something.

Camaraderie is rarely touted as a running benefit; those fit runners flying over gorgeous territory in article headers are usually solo. But it's a big benefit of group running.

It’s My Anniversary!

Three years ago today, I took my first short run around the block in over 40 years. A lot has changed since then.

When I started running, I wasn't sedentary by any means. I've been physically active ever since I started seriously riding a bike when I was 14, and I've been practicing and teaching Okinawan karate for 34 years. Though cycling has ebbed and flowed over the years, teaching and practicing martial arts has been a constant.

But running is a very different, continuously pounding activity – unlike cycling, there's no sitting or coasting when you run – and I didn't want to mess something up that would compromise my other activities. So I turned to my informal coach at the time, my chiropractor Ron Tribendis. Ron is an amazing athlete (a 3-time Hawaii Ironman participant), and combines the skills of chiropractic, various bodywork techniques, and a wealth of personal experience as a competitive athlete. He's become very popular in the local athlete's community, and deservedly so. I'd been going to him since shortly after he started his practice, and gathered many bicycling training tips when I came in for adjustments, so it was only natural I should ask him the best way to start running. His advice was simply to pick a very short, easily accomplished distance, and then go do it every day for several weeks without fail and without increasing the distance even when your starting distance feels good. The idea is to both accustom your body to the stress, and to make running a positive experience to look forward to rather than a death march "because it's good for you". I give the same advice now to people that ask me how to start running.

My first race was the 2011 Dallas Turkey Trot –  me and 40,000+ of my best friends. 5 kilometers later, I was exhausted. 

In December, I set a big goal and signed up to run the Colorado Half Marathon the following June with a number of my coworkers Colorado completers who are based in Fort Collins. I went to Luke's Locker in Plano for a new pair of shoes. Eddie Gonzales fit me with a pair of big Asics and told me about this little thing he had going called the Thursday Night Social Run. It's been a regular event on my calendar since. In January, I joined Luke's Half Beat half marathon training, and improved quite a bit. I was even elected to be a (very slow) Plano member of the Team Luke's "running ambassadors". This fall I started running with Project 214, and have really benefited from the personalized training plan Elaine Bullard provides. 

I've learned as I've laid down the miles. I don't dress as heavily or eat as much afterward. I've adapted to handle the heat and the cold better. If you'd told me back at that Turkey Trot I'd be able to run an easy 5K in 107 degree weather with no ill effects, I'd have called you crazy. Since that trip around the block I've completed six half marathons, and I'm tapering for the Allstate 13.1 on October 26th

Finally, the biggest surprise in this whole endeavor has been the community of runners I've been privileged to be around. I've never Early morning runmet such an accepting, encouraging, social (and partying!) and yet very fit crowd such as this. If you're dedicated enough to get outside and run in the heat, cold, blazing sun and in the morning or evening darkness, no matter how young or old you are, or how fast or slow…you're one of us. Like putting on a karate gi, getting out for a run – especially on a cold, dark morning when everyone can barely even see each other – is a great leveler; It doesn't matter if you're Bill Gates, a soccer mom, or the checkout guy at the local grocery store; the same road lies in front of you. It's reconnected me to my community and greatly widened my circle of friends after many years.

My Facebook motto is Giorraíonn beirt bóthar, an Irish proverb that translates as "Two people shorten a road". I think it perfectly describes the running community.

I'll see you out there. Don't forget to wave.






Inside and Outside: The Post-Race Ritual


"You suck 😉 !"

Anyone that's done any racing recognizes that competition comes in two flavors: external and internal. In external competition you're obviously competing against another individual or team, but with internal competition it's just you. On race day, we often deal with both.

The footrace is the about the oldest form of competition there is. But unless you're an elite runner that's in the running to win the event, or a speedster with a chance to win your age group, for most of us these races aren't external competition. They're actually time trials, the "race of truth" as they say in bike racing. It's you against the clock. So these races are really about internal competition. How did you run? Did your average pace improve? Did you set a personal record? Failing those, did it just feel like a good run?

At the same time, the groups of people we run and socialize with are, by and large, very competitive people. You don't train 4 or 5 days a week by yourself, then get up at 6 AM on a Saturday to run 10 miles in the cold and dark, and perhaps rain, if you aren't disciplined, driven, and at least a little competitive.As a result, when you learn of your friend's race results you feel a combination of happiness for their success – and, if they're faster than you, a pang of envy. (Unless they're an elite runner like our local Logan Sherman, whose sustained speed and energy output are so far beyond most folks you have to simply stand back and be astounded.) And no matter how well you do, you're never quite satisfied.

The (tongue in cheek) post-race ritual process goes like this:

The Post-Race Ritual

(Click to enlarge)

(Actually, I prefer to ask "How was your race?" rather than anything quantitative, to give them the option of not bringing up times at all if they weren't happy with it.) You'd think that after so many years of teaching martial arts and watching many of my students equal or surpass me, this envy wouldn't be an issue any more. But though it gets easier with age, asses-and-elbows competition is a fire that's hard to tamp down.


What really makes a difference is the great groups of folks I run with. Like a Venn diagram, the Luke's training program and the Thursday Night Social Run are two different running circles that overlap where some members have had some association with the Plano Luke's Locker running store. Regardless of which group I'm with, they are some of the most positive people I've ever met. After a race, Facebook is awash in runners posting times and experiences, and their peers sending congratulations in all directions.

I've often said that it's a good thing that running is such a social activity, because a race is damned hard work. The Dallas Rock 'n Roll half marathon was windy (20-25 MPH) and cold (wind chill in the 20's). You must get up early, Runners huddling away from the wind in a City Hall Plaza stairwell at 6:30 AM


huddle together out of the wind in your racing clothes trying not to freeze, strip down to the essentials before the race – I saw many lean women shivering uncontrollably before the start – do your best race, then try not to get hypothermia afterward when your clothes are soaked in sweat.

Commiserating with fellow sufferers over a few pints afterwards is every bit as important for recovery as that long drink of chocolate milk.And your congratulations to your fellow runners really are genuine…because you know they're feeling the same emotions you are.